There’s a Call For You Online, Doctor

By Malcolm Fleschner

In an effort to gain access to particularly difficult to reach physicians, pharmaceutical sales reps have been known to employ creative approaches, including tracking doctors down in the parking lot, on rounds at the hospital, in the midst of social events, even during nature’s call in the restroom. Now, thanks to Web-based technology, pharmaceutical companies have found a new, highly effective means for getting their message across to targeted physicians – eDetailing.

As it’s now defined, eDetailing essentially consists of an on-demand, nonpersonal promotion delivered over the Internet in an interactive format. Visitors, typically physicians or other health care professionals, can access the virtual detail at any time via a Web link. The content typically is preapproved, promotional material provided by a pharmaceutical organization.

eDetailing is making frontline pharmaceutical salespeople more effective in their jobs, not replacing them, contrary to what some might assume, says Robert D. Bedford, senior VP Sales and Marketing for Lathian Systems (www.lathian.com), a Pennsylvania-based provider of technology-based solutions for sales and marketing applications in the life science industry.

"Reps are embracing eDetailing and other online promotional tools," Bedford explains, "because eDetailing augments the reps’ efforts at delivering effective brand messages to targeted physicians they want to reach but who have erected no-see barriers. eDetailing provides greater reach and frequency, more time on message and often improves access to physicians who reps could not get access to before using traditional rep calls and sample requests."

As Bedford points out, one of the great benefits of eDetailing is that 70% of these sessions take place during off business hours – evenings, weekends and holidays – when reps wouldn’t be able to call on healthcare providers anyway. Plus, he adds, with 40% of PCP group practices significantly restricting rep access to physicians, eDetailing often represents the only chance for a pharmaceutical company to get its message out to certain doctors or offices.

Another benefit is that companies frequently use eDetailing to gather feedback and information from participants that are beneficial to the pharmaceutical company’s research and the frontline reps’ selling efforts. "Many companies challenge sales reps and hold regional or district contests to see who can generate the most eDetails in their territory, explains Bedford. "The metrics behind eDetailing are captured electronically and reported to marketing so senior management tends to put more credibility behind the electronic reports of interactions with physicians via this medium.

"After an eDetailing salespeople have an easier time getting past gatekeepers because the healthcare professional has requested the follow up," he says, noting that Lathian Systems send a text message to sales reps’ cell phones alerting them that one of their targets has requested a follow up after an eDetailing. "The sales reps actually can show the gatekeeper the text message on their phone. Bedford says the company also links to sales reps’ SFA system so they have complete knowledge of activity going on in their territory."

Bedford admits the pharmaceutical industry typically is slower to respond to technological innovation than other sectors, such as finance and retail. Yet, after four years of piloting and dabbling it appears companies are beginning to see eDetailing as a must-have strategic tool. While eDetailing might help slow the trend toward deploying more reps, he says, it also should spur an evolution in the ways reps interact with customers.

"As pharmaceutical companies integrate eDetailing into their overall strategic plan,” he says, "the role of the sales rep in the eDetailing process is being better defined. No longer are companies deploying eDetailing programs just on vacant territories, known as white space, or those without reps. The value of the technology is proven. The incremental cost for total coverage of all valuable targets is not significant. Pharma is listening to its customers and pulling back on the waves of redundant sales reps calling on the same physician detailing the same products. The industry is being respectful of physicians’ time and reaching them with the same message, but in a way the physicians want to be reached – online and at their convenience, 24/7/365. The sales reps who best leverage the opportunities provided by a good eDetail campaign will be the most successful sales reps. eDetailing is absolutely not a threat to their business. Instead it creates a synergy that results in incremental sales growth credited to their territory."